not exactly “Lent” connected (okay, it's not connected at all!), but I received an email from an old friend and
former member of First Christian Church in Knoxville (the church closed last
summer and they sold their beautiful building to a property development company.) Anyway, the email was about a Louisville
person who visited there back in the 1970’s and created memories that some
folks still share. It is edited for
"One of the cherished
pieces in my scrapbook is an autograph by Muhammad Ali, who came to Knoxville
in 1972. It was not by chance that I got
it, but by a concerted effort on my part to welcome the champ in a special
way. I was an assistant to the Mayor,
who was out of the city, and designated to do the honors. Ali was scheduled to speak to the Black
Student Union at the University of Tennessee that evening.
He was just as comical
in person as he was when I had seen him on television. He kept us in stitches for the few hours he
was here. Representatives of the UT BSU
and the mayor's office met him for dinner at the UT Faculty Club. Rather than do a usual welcome, I wrote a
simple rhyming ode to the champ:
'On behalf of the
Mayor and the people of Knox, I salute the Greatest of all those who box.
He's a man of courage and spirit and spunk, who has no time for off-the-wall
He is tall in stature and steeped in ideals, and sends his opponents
reeling on their heels.
Some call him
Cassius and some call him the lip, but to his fans he's just plain hip.
a man of character, an ambassador of good will. / He travels far on the merit
And so we in Knoxville affix our official stamp in welcoming a man
who is truly the Champ.'
Immediately, he asked
who wrote it. When I said I did, he said, 'Can't nobody write poetry like that
He said he was happy to
be in Knoxville and that he had been to many one-horse towns, but this was his
first half-horse town. As we stood
around chatting before the dinner, he said, 'I'm hungry. When do we eat?' Someone brought him a salad and he mockingly
gobbled it up. When we sat down to
dinner, he asked for seconds and commented on the good food.
We had no clue about the
speech he would make, but it did not matter.
He was a champion in more ways than just boxing, and his talk to the
students would be entertaining and enlightening. He was our champ, and we wanted him to
We remembered the
handsome, brash young man who won the Olympic light heavyweight title in Rome
in 1960. Four years
later he was the heavyweight champion of the world. We watched him "float like a butterfly
and sting like a bee."
I am sure his talk at
the university would have been memorable, but he received word that his wife
had gone into labor and left before his speech was delivered.
My copy of the poem on
city letterhead is autographed 'Muhammad Ali, Peace, 1972.'" Robert Booker, Columnist
for the Knoxville News Sentinel
Just thought it was worth sharing.
Posted on Tue, March 22, 2016
by Doug Meister